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With the addition of the most recent Heisman Trophy winner, the NFC East appears to have four ships captained by extremely capable men. Quite possibly the best collection in the entire league.
Take a look around the NFL at the moment. Is there any doubt it's not only transitioned to a passing league, but is currently a quarterbacks league through and through? At the quarter mark of the 2012 season, 20 of the 32 starting quarterbacks are on pace for a 4,000 passing yard season.
Pro football has now become a bastion of bionic pigskin barrages and athletic escapism from behind the trenches. While there are many plateaus along the curve, the number of more-than-adequate signal callers grows with each passing amateur draft.
As offensive philosophies formally relegated to high school and collegiate systems start to matriculate into the pro game, various quarterback styles are now a welcome addition to the league. Previously, they were shunned and not given a chance; now they are welcomed with open arms.
Think of how difficult it is to make a Top 10 quarterback list today as compared to say, 10 years ago. In 2002, you struggled to find names to fill up the last three spots; in 2012 you struggle because there are too many names being snubbed. Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, and Eli Manning all have multiple rings and many years remaining in their arms. Drew Brees and Peyton Manning have rings and appear to be Hall of Fame locks; Aaron Rodgers has one and appears to be on a similar trajectory.
Tony Romo, Matt Stafford, Phillip Rivers, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Matt Schaub, Michael Vick; can anyone say the quarterbacks in this group don't have the physical tools to lead their team to a championship? Alex Smith has redefined the term bus driver in San Francisco. Cam Newton broke all-time rookie quarterback records. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are already proving pundits correct that they were can't miss prospects.
Folks, that's over half of the league's starting quarterbacks and we haven't even thrown in unproven young guns Russell Wilson, Andy Dalton or Sam Bradford. I'm hard pressed to come up with a better stretch of quarterback play in the league.
And the division that boasts the best collection of them at the moment? None other than the NFC East. You might not place a NFCE quarterback at the top of the QB totem, but they definitely represent well as a group. They in fact, warrant a closer look.
Depending on your perspective, the best statistical quarterback in the division is also the most maligned. The Dallas Cowboys are led by a quarterback who just might happen to be the toughest son-of-a-gun in the league. Tony Romo plays behind one of the worst collection of offensive linemen in the NFL, leading to him being beaten and bruised pretty much every game. Unlike Chicago's Jay Cutler though, Romo takes a licking and refuses to kick shove his protectors. The abuse he took against Tampa Bay bordered on criminal, yet he dusted himself off and continued to press forward without a complaint.
Unfortunately, every season seems to include a game for Romo like the follow-up: a disappointing five-interception suckfest against Cutler and the Bears.
His career stats makes the national doubt surrounding his abilities look silly and "agenda'd". Over 4,000 passing yards three times, career 7.3 net yards per passing attempt (the little known stat includes sack yardage and is a leading correlation to team success), career 96.6 quarterback rating, more than twice as many touchdowns as interceptions, a lifetime .613 winning percentage ... you name and Tony has done it.
The major drawback to Tony's game is his lack of team playoff success. While there's no doubt a QB plays a large role, he accounts for less than 25% of a team's snap; it's safe to say the idea it's all on him is a bit skewed. With playoff success, the stinker games wouldn't be so largely magnified. However, he doesn't have it, so they are.
Over on the East Coast's largest cities, the quarterbacks rule the day much the way they do in Big D. Eli Manning is the toast of New York, no matter how much the lazy media abuses the Tim Tebow meme. Two Super Bowls in five years has overcome the interception fest of 2010 and the disappointing finishes in between. Under Eli, the Giants either catch fire or fade miserably down the stretch. But when a quarterback does what he has, on the road no less ... you have to give him credit.
Three consecutive seasons over 4,000 passing yards, two different seasons of leading the league in fourth quarter comebacks and game winning drives. Eli has firmly removed himself from under his brother's shadow and although Peyton has already secured his place in Canton, Eli is clearly above him in the pecking order of quarterbacks in 2012.
A little down the I-95 corridor resides a quarterback on the second stanza of his career. Michael Vick is probably the quarterback under the most duress at the moment. After restarting his career in Philadelphia after a three-year absence, Vick has been assaulted over and over again. And that's before he steps behind the porous Eagles offensive line. Vick is getting hammered at an alarming rate; but unlike his division counterparts his ability to dissect what is going on around him receives an equal share of blame for this.
The league's original dual-threat quarterback still scares the pants off of defenders. He has led the league in rushing average five times in his career. Although he has always been a turnover machine and rarely finishes a full season, there is no questioning that he remains must-see TV for the league. One of the strongest arms in NFL history to go along with elite escapability, you can't get more must see than that.
The scary thing about the NFC East quarterbacks is the young gun might end up being the most dangerous of them all. Baylor's Robert Griffin III has taken his Heisman Trophy winning campaign and completely re-energized the Washington Redskins fan base. Through the first quarter of the season he has already run for four touchdowns to go along with four passing ones against a lone interception. He led a fourth-quarter game-winning drive against Tampa Bay to move his team to 2-2.
Although the Redskins might have faced the easiest schedule of the NFC East teams thus far and boast a porous defense; it can't be denied that Griffin is proving the future is now for the offense. His head coach will need to eliminate the designed runs from the arsenal because they endanger him long term. Scrambling when a play breaks down or a huge lane opens up; Griffin reminds you of Vick. Decision-wise however, he might already be leaps and bounds ahead.
Of course, this is a rookie campaign and things can and will change as opposing defensive coordinators have a chance to study the game film and develop a professional plan to stop him. It remains to be seen if he'll be able to adjust to those adjustments and continue dazzling.
So how do these players stack up against the remaining divisions' signal callers?
In the NFC, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Stafford, Jay Cutler and Christian Ponder are interesting. Rodgers is one of the league's top three without question, but do any of the others have much to hang their hats on? Stafford has one dynamic season and has been injured more often than not. Cutler, at this point, is a journeyman who's stats betray his accolades and Ponder is earning a rep in a safe-play offense.
The NFC South has a nice foursome led by Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, the current clubhouse leader for 2012 MVP. With Cam Newton's early season struggles and Josh Freeman's two-year regression they can't stand tall in the competition.
The NFC West? Bus Driver 101. Alex Smith, Kevin Kolb, Sam Bradford and Russell Wilson? No, sorry.
Over in the AFC, the East is owned by Tom Brady. You also have Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Mark Sanchez disappointing entire fanbases before you get to the rookie Ryan Tannehill. The AFC South is all about the youngsters; Andrew Luck, Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker have a long way to go to compete despite having Houston's Matt Schaub on their side.
Peyton Manning and Phillip Rivers leap out in the AFC West; until you realize it includes Matt Cassell and Carson Palmer, who hasn't been a good quarterback since the playoff knee injury years ago.
The closest competition arises from the AFC North. The top three of Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton is formidable, but is there any comparison between Brandon Weeden and RG III? No, there isn't.
That's the overview, but the NFC East sits in an extremely favorable position when looking at the volume stats.
All four NFCE QBs rank in the Top 12 in passing yardage. They rank 3rd, 4th, 10th and 13th in average yards per completion. In Net YPA, a metric that is closely correlated to overall team success, they are at the head of the league again: 2nd, 7th, 11th and 13th.
Over and over again, all four quarterbacks rank in the top ten and top half of the league. To be fair, the picture isn't as rosy when looking at some of the advanced statistics. Tony Romo and Michael Vick are ranking in the last half of the league in stats such as Expected Points Added and Adjusted Yards Per Attempt. Their high interception totals are obviously a big roadblock to overall team success. Both players however seem to be having anomaly seasons to this point and will most likely regress to the mean as the year moves along.
Save for the rookie Griffin, all three players already have a proven track record of ranking in the top half of the league in most categories. With his addition, there's no question that the NFC East should reign for the foreseeable future when it comes to the most important position in sports.